Friday, June 3, 2011

Planning Your Time, Prepare for Interruptions by the 24/7 Couple

We try not to put out blogs that "Preach to the Choir," but one thing we have noticed as we talk to our fellow homepreneurs is that we tend to go through the day letting the day plan our time.  Instead, we should be planning our day so that we know what we are going to accomplish each day. There is a great deal of satisfaction at the end of the day when you can look back to see how productive you have been.  Here are a few tips on how to take control of your time and plan your daily activities so that you can have a productive outcome.

1.  Weekly Overview - it is important to take time either at the beginning of each week or at the end of your     work week to look at what is ahead.  A quick glimpse at what is behind you can help you bring unfinished       items into the next week as well.  Look at your calendar and start scheduling your work around the appointments you have on your calendar. Here is a recommendation of what we think you should schedule each week.

  • Prospecting - Very few people love this part of business, but let's face facts. Clients don't usually just appear out of nowhere. Schedule a couple of hours for cold or warm calling.  A cold call is when you call someone you have never met and a warm call is when you call someone who you may have met once or you know they have some knowledge of who you are and what your business provides.
  • Education - We can't stress this enough. Schedule time to learn something new about your business, technology or just challenge yourself to use that gray matter. Not only will you be able to put this new knowledge to work for you, but it has been shown that learning something new each day helps fight diseases like dementia.
  • Promoting - This could be going to a networking event, passing out marketing material or working your social media sites. A healthy promotion diet can bring new clients, which could cut down some of your prospecting time. What are you waiting for - "Go tell it on the mountain." 
  • Connect - Pick up a few blank greeting cards next time you are at the store, you can find packs of these for a couple of dollars - or print your own.  Take time each week to send a card to your current clients (2 to 3 times a year is good), to your past clients (3-4 times a year) and to prospective clients (even those you didn't get when bidding).  It is important to stay in touch and don't forget to ask them for referrals.  You will be surprised how many of the clients you didn't get will say something like "I wish I had chosen you for that project, you will definitely get my work next time." Why? Because you took the time to stay in touch and make them feel important.  
2.  Daily Planning - At the beginning of each day, fill in the gaps on your daily calendar with the tasks of the day, or your   "to do" list.  Be thoughtful and reasonable when putting together your list, you won't finish every project on your plate by the end of the day. That is why you took time at the end or beginning of the week to plan the next week's work load. Remember, you already brought the unfinished projects from the week before on to your current weeks calendars. 

If you are spending time promoting, prospecting and connecting, at some time during the week your phone will ring and you will need to schedule time to speak with or schedule a meeting you didn't have planned.  That is a welcomed interruption, but don't feel the need to meet with that client the same day. Schedule the appointment so it works into your weeks schedule. Don't let the day plan you, you have already planned your day.  A good weekly plan has left time during each day for the unexpected or welcomed interruption.

Take time each morning to pray over  your daily schedule. Pray specifically for your clients/projects that you will be working on. Ask for God to guide you and help you be the best you can be each day. Work to glorify God and try to work as though He is your boss. That's rewarding!! Praise His name on all the earth.  

3.  Plan Family and Fun Time Daily - You won't be able to or want to plan each minute of your family time or fun time but it is important that you allow time each day for connecting with and playing with your family. Don't work through dinner, this is an important time to gather the family around the table and catch up on daily activities and needs. 

Craig and I feel very blessed that we take time to read the Bible together and do a Bible study together. While I would love to say we spend time each night, there are nights when "life happens." This time together helps us stay centered on what is most important in our lives - Christ. 

We hope you find this information helpful and encourage you to pass it along to other homepreneurs. We send love and blessings to you and your families.

Karen and Craig Ruhl
The 24/7 Couple

"God is able to lavish every blessing upon you, so that always having sufficiency in every way you may be more than adequate for every good deed." - 2 Corinthians 9:8

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reap What You Sow - The 24/7 Couple

The 24/7 Couple
Craig and Karen Ruhl

A couple of weeks ago, Craig and I were out in our yard working on some brown spots that have popped up. It would be easy to leave them alone but we have an "association" who sends letters if we don't keep our homes up to par.  As we were raking up the dead grass and sowing the new seeds, we talked about how we were anxious to see the new growth. A few days later, we saw the new grass starting to push its way through the new fertilized soil and our lawn started looking much greener and healthier.  After a few more days of pampering and watering, our lawn has filled in and looks fantastic. At this point you might be asking what this has to do with business!  Well, do you have any brown spots showing up in with your business?

Craig and I decided to take a look at our potential brown spots and here is what we discovered.

1.  Our marketing materials are good but we wanted to give them a new shot of color just like our lawn. It doesn't have to be costly to infuse your marketing materials with a new marketing piece and your clients and regular contacts will notice the new growth too. Take a minute to look over your marketing pieces.
2.  Elevator speech - have you memorized your introduction and have it so ready that you give it at every     networking event you attend? This was another brown spot with us so we are developing several new speeches and this could be another brown spot for you if you see some of the same people at these events like we do.  Work on having several elevator speeches and make sure they have relevance with the group you are attending.  An example would be, visiting a service organization event and incorporating areas of service you provide to the community as well as tell about your companies products or services.
3.  Education is a big source of brown spots. We decided to schedule time each week to continue our education for our field.  It may be something as easy as attending a webinar or to read an article about new software that is available for our industry.  We encourage you to take time each week to learn something new that you can put in your tool box for your clients.
4.  Prospecting - oh, I heard the "ugh" going up as you read that word. Networking events are good places      to meet new potential clients, but you have to take it further than just handing out business cards. Most of the business owners we meet not only have a brown spot with their prospecting, but the entire yard has turned a shade of tan! Schedule time each week for making phone calls to new and prospective clients. Ask them for 15 minutes of their time so you can get to know them better.  Don't try to pitch your product or service the first time you meet or talk to someone, you don't know them well enough, relationships work. Take time to build one and watch your business grow.
5.  Planning and Organization are areas that need to be constantly worked on, let's face it, when you work   from home, its easy to take each day as it comes but that is not the most productive approach. Once again     we advise you to schedule a time each week to plan our your week and keep your office organized. 

With those 5 tips, you will reap a new look, talk a new talk, learn something new, meet a new client and keep a new schedule.  And as we end this blog we do so with a prayer for each of you. We pray that you and your family are in good health and good spirits and that you are prospering. 

Blessings to you,
Karen & Craig Ruhl
The 24/7 Couple (workshop coming soon)

"So you shall serve the Lord, your God, and He will bless your bread and water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you." -Exodus 23:25

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vacuum Tracks and Short Cuts

Earlier this week, I had a client coming over to review a project. Our house is always presentable, but I have what's called the 5 minute rule - this is my rule, not one my family follows.  I like to have my house in order so that if someone calls and says, "Hey, we are 5 minutes away, can we stop by?" I feel comfortable saying - sure come on over.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have not been able to spend enough time with my house and it was definitely not living up to my 5 minute rule! 

That morning, I had another client project that needed more attention than I had allocated.  As I worked on it, I kept wondering if there was a short cut I could take in the design process that would help me finish the project and have the time to clean the house before my client showed up.  I knew that it was not the right thing to do, every client deserves 100% of our efforts, all of the time. I finished my project and had about 30 minutes to clean.

I stood and looked at my house and once again thought, what shortcuts can I take so that the house looks clean enough for now.  I dusted, cleaned the guest bath and then got the vacuum out.  As I was vacuuming, I watched the tracks that were being made by the vacuum.  It made me start thinking.  It is very easy when running a vacuum to see the tracks and know where you missed.  It isn't easy to take a short cut with a vacuum because it leaves tracks in the carpet.  Then it hit me.  I couldn't hide the vacuum marks from my client because it left tracks. And I can't hide anything from Jesus because he sees everything I do, I leave tracks.

I thought back to my morning and the idea of wanting to find a short cut on my client project.  I realized I didn't take a short cut because it wouldn't be right.  The work I am given is definitely a blessing, I am being given an opportunity to serve another person and their business through the talents I have been given. Not only do my clients see the work, but I know that God is watching the efforts I put in to creating the projects my clients need.  They are my vacuum tracks and no short cuts will do.

I have had a verse shown to me over and over this past few months. I'd like to share it with you and hope that you consider the vacuum tracks you make each day. Don't take short cuts, give 100% to the clients you serve, because it's not just the client you are serving. 

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." Colossians 3:23

Many blessings to your work week and your time with your family. Keep Christ first in your life and you won't have to worry about who comes in second place.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Do you enjoy your work?

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
—Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Let's be really honest here, are you enjoying the work you do? Not everyone will enjoy every aspect of their job and everyone has days when they wonder why they are doing what they do. As a home-based business owner, I pray that you have started a business that brings you joy.

Fun ways to find joy in your work day:

Pray your daily calendar. Before you begin your daily tasks, look at your appointment calendar and your "to do list" and pray over your day. Be specific "Lord, be with me on this call/appointment/project, etc., give me focus, wisdom and discernment."

"My God shall supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19 NIV) He has unlimited resources, unlimited energy, unlimited knowledge, unlimited time. He says I can supply all of your needs.

Tackle your problems first thing. Know your energy levels and work on the most challenging projects when you have the highest energy. After your challenging projects are complete, the day will be filled with the things you enjoy doing most.

Take mini-breaks. I'm probably repeating something I have already told you here, but I take "mental pauses."  Play one online game, read your Facebook posts, listen to a song or watch a video, but control your time. Breaks should not be more than a few minutes.  If you were working in an office or in the "normal" workplace, you would get a few breaks during the day. Be sure to take those pauses at home too.

Learn something new each day. It's very important to grow your business and keep on top of the "latest" in your industry.  If a new gadget has been introduced, schedule time to learn about it. Read an article, download a trial offer, take an online class.  You chose this field because you had a strong love, knowledge or desire to work in the field.  Learning new things will keep you fresh - and it's good for your brain!

Work to promote your favorite client today. We all have a favorite client we work with, but in this case, I'm talking about your own business.  Too often, we get so busy with our clients/customers, etc. that we forget to promote our own business.  Make a list of five prospective clients and get on the phone. Pray before calling, and remember, the person you are calling needs your product or service.  If you don't call them, your competitor will.  Have fun with the call.  When you get the person on the phone, ask how their day is going, you may be surprised to learn that you are the only person who asked about their day. 

There is a movie out called Eat, Love, Pray. I don't think those are the right priorities in life and I've seen others renaming the book so here is our new book title. Pray, Love, Work at what you love doing.

Blessings for a prosperous work week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lower Your Home Business Carbon Footprint

There has been an effort to help us all reduce the carbon footprint we leave for years now.  I keep hearing about going green, I see the television commercials and I try to keep "in-touch" with how I can make a difference, even if it makes a small impact. And then it hit me! 

I was cleaning out some client files the other day to make room for - yes, you guessed it, more client files. I am always shocked at the amount of paper I produce in my office.  It made me start thinking about how I can make a change in my habits and lower my own carbon footprint - just in my home office. I'm going to list some of the things I found that I can do and would love to hear how you are reducing your carbon footprint as well.

Bottled Water
I give credit to my husband on this one.  Each day, I would take my trash can and empty the cans and bottles into our recycling bags in the garage.  I drink 4-6 bottles of water daily along with 4-6 diet cokes.  My day is from 8 am until, well, let's just say I am a very late night person! Craig decided he wanted to cut costs and eliminate some of the plastic bottles. We now have a nice Britta pitcher sitting in the kitchen and we fill up our glasses when we want more water.  The funny thing is, I find myself drinking even more water than before. We decided we would take this a step further and now purchase the 2 liter bottles of soda, with that, I'm drinking less!

I also own Lighthouse Creative Group - a full service creative marketing agency.  Lighthouse is where most of the paper is produced. I keep samples of my client work for my portfolio. I am now converting my portfolio to be 100% online so I can reduce the extra paper in the house. Another tip for you is to make sure you are using all of the paper needed when you have a print project created.  I recently designed a beautiful invitation for a client and we designed a bookmark for the event so all of the paper was used in the printing process.  If you have a good printer, there will not be an extra charge because it is all printed at the same time. 

You can reduce the amount of paper coming in to your home by going paperless on your bills. Many companies will send your invoices via email, eliminating the clutter in your mailbox.  I was talking to my mail person yesterday and she was telling me that the Post Office is really hurting from the reduction in snail mail. While I don't like to think of any business hurting, I do like to see a more efficient way of doing business. I also stopped printing out my emails unless it is something I need for verification - like plane tickets, etc.

Direct Light
If you have enough light coming through your windows, use that light and save the electricity.

I know products have to be protected for shipping but lately I feel like I need an engineering degree just to open them.  When possible, look for the products with the least amount of packaging. Carry a cloth bag with you when going to the office supply store, this will cut down the use of plastic or paper bags.

Energy-proof your house
This is a big one and one we need to work on as well.  Be sure your home is as energy efficient as you can make it today. I'm not suggesting you go out and make big purchases, that isn't even feasible. Here are a few things you can do that will make a difference in your electric bill and on the environment.
  1. Turn off and unplug electronic gadgets! Oh boy, if you could see my office, you would know this is a challenge at CHBBF. I have several printers, two computers, a monitor for editing, lights, cameras, action! Seriously, my office is Houston Control.  If you are not using an electronic device, turn it off and unplug it when possible. 
  2. Turn off lights, I bet you heard this when you were growing up, "Who pays the electric bill around here? Can't anyone turn off a light but me?" Parents are wise and now that we are those parents, let's follow their advice and turn off the lights! If you are not in the room, you don't need the light on.
  3. Open the windows and turn off the air. This may not be timely today, August is not the best month to make that suggestion.  When the day is nice and cool and you see the breeze moving through the trees, open the house up and enjoy that fresh air. When you are using the air or heat, make sure your house is closed up tight. 
  4. Keep your heating and air conditioning units maintained.  This is not that costly, and will save you money in the long run. We have a maintenance contract with a company for less than $200.00 per year. They call us when it's time to have the unit serviced and we are set to go for the season.
  5. Drive Less. Schedule your client appointments and errands to coincide with each other. If you can, walk to the park, store, etc.
I feel so blessed when I look at this world and know that God created it for us to enjoy. I don't do everything I should but I am taking steps to improve.  How about you - send us your ideas and let's reduce our carbon footprints together.


We know that in everything, God works with those who love Him, whom he has called in accordance with His purpose, to bring about what is good. -Romans 8:28

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tips to help build your business...and more!

Twitter postings, blogs away, have you used LinkedIn today? SEO, PHP, LOL, MOTD, how many acronyms do we need? Facebook friends are on the go, read their posts and you'll soon know. MySpace, Ning, MeetUp and Tagged, post post post or you'll be nagged.  Clients, meetings, be in the know...sorry something has to go!

If something has to go in order to fit in everything on your to do list, please cut some of the time you use posting messages on social media.  I give myself a "Mental Pause" throughout my work day.  That is when I will sign on to one of my social media sites and catch up with a few posts and add a comment. No more than 5 minutes and I'm focused and back to work on my business at hand.

Here are six tips to help you build your business.
  1. Be passionate and purposeful. Start out each day with a prayer, purpose and a plan. Give yourself little reminders on why you started your business and bring back the passion. 
  2. Be mindful of time stealers.  Sure the lawn needs to be watered, the dog needs play time and ugh, did you see the dust on the living room furniture? If you worked outside of the house, these things would be scheduled for evening or weekends.  These are good "mental pause" items, take five minute breaks and dust the furniture, throw a load of laundry in, put something in the crock pot for dinner and then back to work!
  3. Sell, promote and sell some more. We meet so many people who have a passion for what they want to do but really hate selling.  Part of owning and operating any business is making sure you get in front of your target market to sell your product or service.  "Build it and they will come," just doesn't work. Schedule in time each day to make calls, write letters and email prospective clients.  
  4. Have a customer service policy. Whatever your business is, you have a customer and you need to be ready in case that customer is not happy.  Really, customer service is not a problem with a satisfied customer.  If you aren't sure what to do, look up a few customer service policies by using Google. Do not simply copy someone's customer service policy, write one that works for your business ethics.
  5. Whatever you do, work at it as though you are working for the Lord, not mankind. Col. 3:23. When I discovered this verse, it changed my way of thinking.  I pray before I begin a client project and ask for guidance. If I have a challenge, I take it to prayer. If I work as though I work for the Lord, everything else falls into place.
  6. Schedule family time. One of the problems with working from home is having your work in front of you 24/7.  Take time to enjoy your family and friends. Take the breaks you need to stay healthy and enjoy your life.  Your business will benefit from a healthy balanced lifestyle.

Friday, August 13, 2010

HELP...I've fallen into the Social Media Trap and I can't get up!!

We hear you! Every article you read today tells you that you MUST have a web presence. You MUST have a blog, and you MUST be connected with the social media sites. You MUST work your SEO and you simply have to spend money on pay per click advertising. Ok, so you want to be on top of the game and certainly want your business to grow, however, there is just one of you!

Don't fall into the Social Media Trap, it's a deep hole and there is no ladder to help you climb out. I was having fun the other day with my husband and mimicking my favorite speaker Beth Moore. In my best Beth Moore Texan accent (and of course poofing my hair for the Texas big hair look), I started spouting, "Do you blog, are you working SEO's, did you IM today, people stay with me. Are you on Facebook, Blogger, WordPress or Yahoo? Have you been Tagged, LinkedIn or friended on Friendster? Did you create new content for your web site, email blast your database all while listening to your iTunes or watching your YouTube videos? Come on now, I'm talking to you!" Of course this was all done in fun, but it is all relevant to every business today.

If you do not have a web presence today, you are missing your customer base. It doesn't matter what generation name you carry, below is a list to help you feel like you are in the know, you must be out there in some form.

2000/2001-Present - New Silent Generation or Generation Z
1980-2000 - Millennials or Generation Y
1965-1979 - Generation X
1946-1964 - Baby Boomers
1925-1945 - Silent Generation
1900-1924 - G.I. Generation
The Population Reference Bureau provides an alternate listing and chronology of generational names in the United States.

1983-2001 - New Boomers
1965-1982 - Generation X
1946-1964 - Baby Boomers
1929-1945 - Lucky Few
1909-1928 - Good Warriors
1890-1908 - Hard Timers
1871-1889 - New Worlders
So now that I have presented you with the challenge, here is a tip for home-based business owners or small business owners with a limited staff.

Schedule your time, it is precious and you can't get it back. It is one resource that runs out and once it is gone, it can never be recaptured and is very costly if not used wisely.

Web Site, this is a must. You do not need all the bells and whistles that web developers love to sell. In fact, all of the Flash openings you see actually hurt web sites when they are ranked with the search engines. A brochure site is a great way to enter in to the World Wide Web (www).

Pick one social media site and stay away from the traps. Each social media site has bells and whistles, games and interactive content - they are trying to get you to "stick" to their site, or spend more time with them. Why? So they can sell to their advertisers of course. The more people who sign up and the more time you spend with them means more dollars to them. There is nothing wrong with that but you do not need to "spread the wealth" or spend too much time trying to keep up with the Jones, Smiths or any of your other friends on the sites. Pick one and spend a small amount of scheduled time on it daily or weekly.

Consider hiring a company to help you with the tasks listed above so you can spend time developing your clients and providing outstanding customer service.

Don't panic or feel you are being left behind. You can spend every second of every day learning the tools available to you on the internet and when you wake up the next day, you will already be behind the learning curve. New tools, applications and those wonderful acronyms are being developed as you sleep. Spend a little time each week for learning and relax - no one is on top of everything (and don't let those high priced marketers tell you any different).

We hope this article has brought a smile to your face, given you some information to help you with your business and let you have a sigh of relief knowing you are "ok" and doing just fine in this wonderful high speed internet world.

Blessings to your week and remember Colossians 3:23, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people!"